The final four chapters of Angela Shier-Jones’ book, Pioneer Ministry and Fresh Expressions of Church talk about how existing churches can support and co-exist with fresh expressions. Although not strictly relevant to my situation, it did have some interesting points.
She advocates churches having a ‘mixed economy’ approach to the ministries they provide. Although this is not anything new, it is certainly worth mentioning in a book which attempts to be an introduction to these new forms of ministry. The existing ‘traditional’ congregation must, she says, be willing to support and encourage a new ministry even if it means their existing congregation never sees a financial or numerical reward in return. Pioneers are called to be, well, pioneering – breaking new ground, so it should hardly be a surprise if the fresh expression evolves into a congregation of its own.
One useful section that Shier-Jones mentions in her final chapter is a list of common reasons why a fresh expression ministry may not succeed. These include a lack of vision or focus, trying to do the wrong thing for the culture, or even too much interference from outside. Often a new fresh expression can be reaching out to the unchurched quite successfully, and then too many Christians turn up and change the entire flavour of the group. A core team is important, but then this team needs to be supported and encouraged as they are left to get on with it.
Overall Shier-Jones has written a useful, but not groundbreaking book. Much of what she says has been written elsewhere and is freely available on the Fresh Expressions or Share Community website. She aimed to write a book which ‘offers a theological and practical guide for pioneer ministers… and mission minded congregations’ (from the back cover). She has succeeded on the practical side and gives a number of clear examples to illustrate her points, but does not offer a robust theology, instead just a smattering of verses and illustrations from Acts. This book is useful for a minister wanting a primer or for some students wanting an overview of things to bear in mind as they study different kinds of ministry, but I don’t think its quite right for congregations as a whole. However, it did offer me some valuable insights in my early days in the role.